2.1.4. Testing for xenogamy (reliance on out-crossing)

In xenogamy, or cross-pollination, the transfer of pollen to the stigma must occur between plants with different genetic constitutions; the result is offspring with greater genetic diversity than those for species exhibiting self-pollination or geitonogamy. Cross-pollination is also important because some plant varieties, genotypes, and even individuals are entirely self-incompatible and obligated to receive pollen from another variety, genotype, or individual to set fruits. Even self-fertile plants may produce more fruit or seeds of better quality when cross-pollinated than when self-pollinated, and the extent of this can be determined if outcrossing and selfing (within flower / within plant) are tested at the same time. Crops which grow from highly outcrossed seeds are often more vigorous than ones grown from inbred seeds. Finally, xenogamy is of paramount importance for the production of hybrid varieties and hybrid seed, both of which are of increasing importance.

Knowing the extent to which a plant is obligated to xenogamy helps researchers and growers manage bees optimally and combine compatible cross-pollinating varieties (called pollinisers) to promote high rates of pollen transfer (see Jay, 1986; Free, 1993).

  1. Repeat the procedures for testing for autogamy (section 2.1.2.), but replace the treatment using the flower’s own pollen for one using pollen from a flower of a different plant. In order to prevent using genetically related pollen (parents or siblings), do not collect pollen from plants close to the one whose flowers will be tested.
  2. In order to identify compatible pollinisers, the experimental design requires a systematic selection and application of pollen from a number of different varieties of the same plant species. Finding compatible pollinisers is crucial for many commercially important crops such as almond, apple, and plum and is a standard feature of commercial grower guides for planning orchard plantations.
  3. Conclusions are similar to those when testing for autogamy (section 2.1.2.), except that if only the xenogamy treatment develop fruit, the plant species is xenogamous and its flowers need a pollinating agent to transfer pollen between flowers of different plants. In this case, honey bees can be of great value. The proportion of fruit- or seed-set obtained from the cross pollination treatment in comparison to the control will tell the extent to which the plant is reliant on a xenogamous mating scheme (strictly xenogamous, highly xenogamous, etc.).